Prathama Banerjee’s rigorously argued book Politics of Time is both a meditation on questions central to contemporary theoretical concerns—namely modernity, subjectivity and agency—as also an exegesis on the colonial Bengali preoccupation with the past. In that sense this book is centrally about History—about how the past becomes an object of remembrance and narration, and how this act then transforms itself into not just a discipline, but knowledge itself. It is also a book of encounters—between the Bengali Hindu bhadralok and their ‘primitive’ Other, the Santal tribals of Bengal; between colonialism and the Bengali intelligentsia, and the concomitant experience of alterity among the Bengali; and between different perceptions of selfhood, of the Santal and the Bengali. These encounters, particularly that between the Bengali and the Santal, according to Banerji, constitute the definitional moment in creating the ‘condition’ called colonial modernity.
December 2007, volume 31, No 12